On September 27, 1980, the acoustic guitar melody of David Essig’s “Sunrise II” burst over the CKCU-FM airwaves from its studio in Carleton University. It was the premiere of Canadian Spaces, now Canada’s longest-running folk music show on radio. Its founder, the late Chopper McKinnon, continued for an impressive 33-year run as host. Like all CKCU-FM hosts, his work on Canadian Spaces was a labour of love performed on a volunteer basis.
McKinnon became well known for his ability to select and support excellent music; and conduct insightful interviews with dashes of humour, attracting a wide listening audience. Following the passing of McKinnon in 2013, singer-songwriter Chris White has enthusiastically served as host, inviting different co-hosts to join him each week.
“Chopper’s passion for well-crafted Canadian songs has created an institution that benefits us all,” says White. “By connecting listeners with folk musicians at local, regional and national levels, Canadian Spaces is a powerful testament to the power of music to create and sustain communities.”
When he was offered a time slot on CKCU-FM in 1980, McKinnon, who was a folk fan and former manager of the Toronto Folklore Centre, wanted to showcase Canadian folk music. McKinnon was told that there was simply not enough music in that genre and that the show would probably end within a few months! Originally an hour long, Canadian Spaces soon expanded to two hours, and the rest is history. September 28, 2019 marks the fortieth year of Canadian Spaces, which is still going strong. It remains a top fundraiser for CKCU-FM during annual funding drives.
McKinnon was told that there was simply not enough music in that genre and that the show would probably end within a few months!
The format of the show has remained the same. Devotees of the show, dubbed Space Cadets, are treated to 40 minutes of recorded music, followed by live performances, and in-depth interviews with musicians both famed and obscure. And there is always plenty of publicity for upcoming local events and concerts.
At the show’s opening, listeners are encouraged to “Put the kettle on, make yourself a pot of your favourite hot brown drink and stick around for 40 minutes of uninterrupted folk.” This tagline is repeated enthusiastically each week. While the accent is on Canadian acoustic singer-songwriters, the show also embraces diverse musical forms, spoken word pieces and music from newcomers to Canada.
CKCU created the Ottawa Folk Festival in 1994 in direct response to the size and loyalty of the show’s audience. Musicians who were supported by Canadian Spaces early in their careers have gone on to great success, sometimes internationally. Jane Siberry, for example, appreciated the support of Canadian Spaces early in her career so much that she donated gold records to CKCU.
Nowadays, Canadian Spaces can be heard anywhere live and on demand through the CKCU website. “I see a bright future for Canadian Spaces,” says White. “It’s a pleasure to showcase so many talented musicians, from folk veterans putting out their best work ever to talented newcomers exploring and extending folk traditions.”